Saturday, December 1, 2007

Spiritual Healing

Our next RCIA topic is reconciliation. As preparation for the topic we are asked to reflect on a past experience of healing. Well, I readily admit to being a sinner in need of forgiveness but I'm pretty sure that I don't want to publicly share my sins with the rest of the group (and I hope the rest of the group feels the same way). I can share my experience of seeing healing and forgiveness in other people though.

Alcoholics Anonymous with its twelve steps is a program that has enabled people who have been stuck in a pattern of sin to leave their sin behind and embrace a new way of life. Some years ago J. Keith Miller in his book A Hunger For Healing: the Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth provided valuable insights into the potential of the twelve steps as a model for spiritual healing. In his book Miller give his Twelve Steps of Sinners Anonymous:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over our Sin - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These twelve steps provide a good snapshot of the process of spiritual repentance and reconciliation. I note that it recognizes the importance of Divine grace in steps two, three, five, six, and seven. I also note the importance of "confessing" to another person (step five).

I know many people who have struggled with alcoholism. I think of one friend who struggled with booze since his teen years. We often drank together and I recognize that I easily could have fallen into the same pattern that he did. The point is that he did go to AA meetings for some time and remains friends with his sponsor - but he has not stopped drinking. I do know of another person who went through the same pattern. At some point though she entered AA and has been working her twelve steps since then. This has left her free to become a different person. As far as I know she has not had another drink. She was raised in the Anglican church and felt drawn back to church. She is now a candidate in RCIA for entrance to the Catholic church at Easter. In her career life she has become a caregiver for challenged people. She is the adoptive guardian of a 40 something lady who was left mentally handicapped by a drug overdose. She devotes her spare time to coaching in the special Olympic movement. I have to say that working the twelve steps has been an occasion of considerable spiritual healing for this person.


We are finally beginning the season of Advent. I say finally because at least three of the houses on my block have had their Christmas lights shining for the past week or so. Also, it seems that many of the stores in this city put up their Christmas decorations as soon as Halloween was over. I know that this makes me seem like the old guy that I am but I remember (with some fondness) the season of Advent when I was much younger. In our house we kept a traditional Advent. The Christmas tree did not go up until Christmas eve. The tree was kept up until Epiphany. Throughout Advent my mother (God rest her soul) spent an incredible amount of time cleaning the house and baking for Christmas. Frequently this extra work (there was already enough work for her since she had eight children and helped with some farm work) exhausted her so much that she slept through Christmas morning. Advent is intended to be a time when we look forward to the coming of Christ and prepare ourselves for this great event.

What has caused the change? I'm not actually sure. As far as the lights go I think that being this far north some people put their lights on early simply as a protest against the ever increasing hours of darkness at this time of the year. Another obvious explanation is that we actually live in a post-Christian culture where the spiritual meanings attached to the liturgical and calendar year have been lost and replaced by commercialism. I think that what remains is for individual Christians to try to retain the real meaning of the time of Advent and try to "wait" to celebrate Christmas until the feast itself. For my part I will miss (another sign of my age again) even the celebrations of a fifteen or twenty years ago when our whole family could still gather at the farm and the nieces and nephews would open gifts with their eyes wide with excitement and amazement.